When it comes to parcel shipping, companies are willing to invest in automating this process. In this QAD Precision Report, Ian Berman asks why LTL shipping is still a largely manual process.
It seems that in today’s shipping world a lot of time and money is spent on automating and streamlining the shipping process for parcels. With the exponential growth of online shopping and the proliferation of Amazon we are sending more parcels than ever. The ROI is strong for automation in this process. Even if shippers can only save 1-2 minutes per box, that adds up quickly if you are shipping ten thousand parcels or more a day.
As a result, we see companies putting great investment into automated picking machines. These are then connected to automated print-and-apply label printers. This not only creates a streamlined and efficient parcel shipping process — it also minimizes the need for warehouse personnel.
But what about those larger shipments? When shippers are sending, for example, a shipment of 2-3 pallets to a customer’s distribution center, the pickup and delivery process seems antiquated.
First off, logistics professionals still have to call a carrier or freight broker to calculate freight costs for their shipment. After that, they also need to generate a paper bill of lading (BOL) or other necessary documents.
Ah yes, good old fashioned paper documents — the ones that inevitably get coffee spilled on them, or get swept out the dock door as soon as it opens or get lost, mislaid or forgotten.
Less-Than-Truckload or LTL freight shipping is still largely manual. Why should this be, and what can we do to automate and streamline this process?
First off, I believe that this stagnation is really driven out of the lack of investment that LTL carriers have made into technology. For many years, shippers needed to send a fax — yes a fax! — to the carriers to schedule a pickup.
As a shipper you will also need to make sure all the information is correct on the BOL:
Is the quote number on there?
Is my account number correct?
Does it have the right classification and dimensions?
Oh — what about those accessorials? Where are those captured, did they see them?
If your communication is via email with PDF documents attached so that information regarding shipments can be manually entered into a dispatching system, there are several points of failure. For freight shipments, all those manual processes are ones that we, as fallible human beings, can easily make mistakes with.
This system might have served us for decades. These days it is no longer efficient, and it is certainly not cost effective.
Alternatively, your LTL carrier may direct you to their online portal to enter the necessary information. That’s something of an improvement, right?
Sure, except now you need a login for each carrier system. You also need to enter this information into all those different carrier systems to get estimated costs. If you are tasked with finding the lowest shipping rates — likely, given the current state of the world — that’s a real pain.
Furthermore, some transportation software tools will let you manage and load rates directly into their system. That’s all very well and good, but there is still no communication in the background to your carrier. Someone is still having to make a call to the carrier to give them that information.
What if, what if you could automate all of those steps above? No more interaction required.
All you need to do is build the shipment in your ERP or WMS and then send it to the warehouse for processing. All the transportation manager may need to do is confirm items on the pallet and press process. “Automagically” pallet labels are printed, BOLs are generated and your costs are calculated. You even gain the ability to shop multiple carriers through that same process.
This is now. This is all possible today.
LTL carriers are developing those APIs to allow their customers to electronically rate and manifest shipments, as well as getting spot pricing and making pickup requests.
We can eliminate the need to make endless phone calls. We no longer need to switch between numerous websites to track LTL shipments. There are software tools that can allow you to process an LTL shipment just like a parcel, and take advantage of carriers APIs.
Any time we can minimize the human interaction in a process allows us to reduce errors and speed up the process. The list of carriers with these types of integrations is ever growing. Now is the time to re-evaluate how LTL shipments are processed. This is a paradigm shift — shippers need to embrace it.
Ian Berman is a Solutions Consultant with QAD Precision. Ian has over 10 years of experience in international transportation and compliance. He holds a Masters Degree in Supply Chain Management and has APICS CLTD Certification.
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